“Help! I’m having another puppy emergency.”
Heather held the phone to her ear as she rolled over in bed and blearily looked at the clock. “It’s five thirty in the morning.” It wouldn’t be so bad if she’d gotten more sleep, but all night long she’d watched the clock tick over from 11 p.m. to midnight to 1 a.m. and then 2 a.m. before her brain finally gave up and shut down.
Damn Zach Sullivan for not only waking her up...but for being the reason she hadn’t been able to sleep in the first place.
“Cuddles doesn’t care what time it is,” he growled into her ear.
Yesterday, she would have been in a panic over the tone of his voice, would have assumed he was going to do something horrible to the puppy. But after spending part of the evening with him, while she’d confirmed that he was full of himself, she also felt confident that he was good with animals.
Even naughty little puppies.
“That’s life with a puppy,” she informed him around a yawn as she leaned back against her pillow and watched the sun start to rise outside her bedroom window.
Strange that it should seem so easy and natural to be talking on the phone with Zach when she’d just met him. And yet, it was.
“Just clean up whatever mess she made, tell her you love her anyway, and be sure to show up for your training session this evening.”
“Cuddles!” he roared.
She heard something crash to the floor, and then a muffled string of curses, before they were disconnected.
She closed her eyes, but already she knew it was pointless. She shouldn’t go running whenever he called, especially not to a man like Zach Sullivan, who would only see it as confirmation that he was king of the world. But at the same time, she knew she’d only be distracted all day wondering if he and Cuddles were going to make it to five p.m. in one piece.
She dragged herself into the shower and ran it a bit colder than usual to try to wake herself up—and cool herself down from the very sexy dream she’d been having about the exact person she shouldn’t have been. After she dried off, she pulled up his number on her cell phone from when he’d called her the night before and left him a message telling him that she would be coming to help, after all.
It was far more tempting than it should have been to blow dry her hair and throw on some makeup, but it was bad enough she was heading to his house this morning with nothing but a phone call. If she actually dressed up for him, all chance of retaining her self-respect would disappear.
By the time she’d slid on a pair of jeans, one of a dozen long-sleeved T-shirts in her closet, and braided her hair to keep it out of the way while she was dealing with whatever puppy mayhem had descended at Zach’s house, he’d texted her with his address.
She let Atlas out into the backyard and fed him before they set out. “Guess what? We’re going to see your new best friend Cuddles.”
At the sound of the puppy’s name, her dog happily thumped his tail.
“I’m glad at least one of us is happy about this,” she muttered as she drove toward Potrero Hill, one of the most exclusive districts in San Francisco, with views to forever. Who knew auto mechanics did this well?
The thought hit her again as she pulled up to the enormous house, along with the question of how Zach could possibly afford it. But when everything inside sounded ominously quiet as she stood on the front step and knocked on the door, worry about what had happened between him and the puppy had the question moving into the background.
Because even though she had a sense that Zach probably lived to do things like wake people up out of a sound sleep at 5:30 in the morning, she now had a feeling the real reason he’d called her was out of actual desperation.
Hoping she wasn’t too late, she knocked on the door again, more loudly. Zach opened the door, saying, “Shhh.”
He looked like hell. Still far too gorgeous for a mere mortal, but definitely not his best.
No doubt, even she’d managed more sleep than he had last night. And from the looks of his half-shaven face, and the jeans pulled up over his hips, the real damage had started to go down when he was in the shower.
Okay, she firmly told herself as the muscles on his shirtless chest rippled in front of her, she could handle a nice set of abs. Heck, she’d spent time with a professional athlete for a while, so it wasn’t like she hadn’t seen a good body before.
Fortunately, Zach was so distraught by whatever Cuddles had done that he didn’t seem to notice her drooling over his bare chest. The last thing she needed was for him to know just how hard a time she was having resisting him.
He pointed down to her dog and ordered, “Don’t wake the puppy up.”
Atlas’s ears flattened and Heather rolled her eyes. Men were such babies. Zach was acting like waking up Cuddles would break him as he slowly opened the door, wincing at every creak in the frame.
Heather’s mouth fell open. “Oh my God.” She looked at Zach in shock, then back at his house. “I can’t believe Cuddles could possibly have done all this by herself.”
A muscle jumped in his clenched jaw. “Believe it. She’s the devil in a puppy disguise.”
Normally Heather would have taken offense at anyone saying that about a helpless, sweet puppy, but she was stunned by the destruction to Zach’s living room.
The puppy had not only ripped open every pillow on his couch, she had also gone to town on what Heather guessed was a really expensive rug. There were scratch marks up and down one side of the kitchen island and a half-dozen dark stain spots on the exposed parts of the hardwood floor.
Even Atlas looked alarmed by the state of the apartment, as he stood beside her at the front door like a statue of a Great Dane.
“Where is she?” Heather asked in the hushed voice Zach had wanted her to use earlier.
He pointed to a pile of feathers beside the couch. Heather had to look closely to see Cuddles curled up in the center of it, sleeping the sleep of the truly exhausted.
“I’m going to kill my brother,” he said in a low voice that told her he meant every single word.
She didn’t blame him for feeling that way. He was a bachelor who’d had a rambunctious puppy dumped on him. In truth, none of this was Zach’s fault. He was just doing the best he could. Unfortunately, it seemed he was way out of his element with this particular puppy.
Heather had worked with hundreds of dogs over the years, and she’d been able to tell right away that this one was a handful. The smart, playful ones always were.
“She wouldn’t stop crying last night when I put her to bed behind her gate.”
Heather rolled her eyes. “What did I tell you yesterday about sticking to the rules?”
“Neither one of us was going to get any sleep unless I let her come into the bed.” He gave her a rueful look. “She fell right to sleep as soon as I put her on one of my pillows and I figured we were good to go until morning.” He ran his hand over his face. “I know, I’m an idiot, but I didn’t think three pounds of fluff could do this kind of damage. I can’t believe I forgot about the teeth. And the bladder. And the nails.”
“How long do you think she was up by herself?”
“I don’t know. I thought she had burrowed under a pillow and assumed she was still in the bed when I got up to shave and get in the shower.” He grimaced. “That was when I heard the crash. A lamp shattered, fortunately not on her. She knocked over another one right after I called you. Swear to God, I look away for three seconds and she’s like the freaking Tasmanian Devil.”
Heather gave Atlas the signal to stay by the door before she moved toward the pile of feathers and puppy. “Is she hurt?”
“She’s fine. I checked her over before I let her sack out.”
The truth was that by this point, most people would have been angry enough to at least give the puppy a smack on its rump. Funny, wasn’t it, that she could so easily imagine Zach’s large hands moving gently over Cuddles’s legs and soft belly as he made sure the puppy was okay.
Taking pity on him, she said, “I’ll help you clean up. Go ahead and finish your shower.”
He looked pathetically grateful as he showed her where the garbage bags were.
“Thank you, Heather.”
Oh boy. She hadn’t prepared for a smile like that, one completely devoid of seduction or wicked intent. It was one thing to guard her heart against a Lothario with no moral fiber...it was another entirely to remain cold and distant with a flesh-and-blood man whom she was afraid might be just as human as the rest of them.
He was halfway across the living room when he turned and said, “If it weren’t for the puppy of mass destruction over there, I’d invite you to join me.”
Ah, there was the man she could so much more easily fight her attraction to.
“If it weren’t for her, I wouldn’t be here.”
She turned her back on him as she stuffed feathers and ceramic shards into the trash. When she heard Zach turn the shower on, she let out the breath she’d been holding. Rocking back on her heels, she looked over at Atlas, who was watching over Cuddles from his spot by the door.
“What have we gotten ourselves into, Atlas?”
He raised his dark eyebrows at her question, but he didn’t look away from the puppy. She didn’t blame him for being completely wrapped up in the cute, but very naughty, little dog.
Lord knew she couldn’t seem to pull her thoughts away from Cuddles’s equally cute and naughty temporary owner.